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What causes domestic violence?

Learn to recognize what causes domestic violence.

Victims of domestic abuse need not feel alone. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Victims of domestic abuse need not feel alone.

Domestic violence takes many forms, but abuse from a parent, guardian, spouse or partner all qualify as domestic violence under the law. The term is most commonly used to mean a violent, physical relationship between spouses or intimate partners, but abuse can also take the form of forced sexual activity, emotional manipulation or unfair control over finances. Domestic violence is illegal in every state but often goes unreported because victims feel helpless or are reluctant to blame their abuser.

Physical assault of women by men is the most common form of domestic violence. In fact, the National Institutes of Health reports that domestic violence is the most common cause of injury to women ages 15 to 44.

There are no conclusive signs of domestic violence against spouses or intimate partners, but the American Psychiatric Association has labeled common characteristics of many abusive relationships.

  • An abusive relationship usually begins as a "quick, whirlwind romance," when neither member of the relationship has much time to get to know the other.
  • An abusive partner might be very possessive of his significant other’s time and attention, keeping close track of her whereabouts and with whom she spends time.
  • He might also be extremely jealous, attempting to cut off ties between the victim and her friends and relatives, claiming that they don't care enough about her.
  • A potential abuser is often extremely sensitive, and may pressure his partner into doing things she isn’t comfortable with -- claiming that if she really loved him, she would do anything for him.
  • He might prevent her from leaving the relationship using similar manipulation techniques, like threatening to kill himself or hurt someone she cares about.

In short, abusive relationships are often built on a desperate need for control, so any signs that a partner might be obsessively jealous or manipulative could be considered a warning.

If unaddressed, domestic violence can have consequences beyond physical injury, including a wide range of mental illnesses. Victims of domestic abuse can develop depression, anxiety, psychosis and suicidal tendencies, and the feelings of helplessness associated with domestic violence can lead to substance addiction, homelessness or suicide.

Victims of domestic violence should seek help and extract themselves from the situation immediately; many shelters and volunteer organizations exist to help with this process. After the victim and abuser are separated, therapy can be a valuable resource for both parties. Many individuals who commit domestic violence were abused as children and might have some deep-seated issues that could benefit from professional help.

The most important fact about domestic violence is that it rarely resolves itself, and victims should reach outside the relationship for help immediately. If you're unsure whether or not you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Web site provides a helpful survey, as well as free hotlines and other resources for emergency aid. The United States Office for Victims of Crime Web site also provides a list of national organizations, programs and online resources for individuals seeking help.

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